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Giants at Texans: Not all 0-2 teams are created equal

Most analytical measures consider Houston to be the better of these two teams

NFL: Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans
Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

There are currently seven 0-2 NFL teams. Mathematically, we know that history tells us the overall chance of making the playoffs from that sad plight is about 11 percent.

The New York Giants and Houston Texans, who meet Sunday at Houston’s NRG Stadium, are among those teams.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell tells us that using a variety of factors the Giants, at playoff odds calculated by ESPN of 5.3 percent, have the second-best chance of those 0-2 teams of turning their season around and making the playoffs.

Unfortunately for the Giants, Barnwell also tells us that the Texans — at a whopping 24.4 percent in comparison to the Giants — are the team most likely to reach the playoffs from that 0-2 ledge. He writes, in part:

I think the Texans are still, quite comfortably, best-positioned to make a run back toward the top of the AFC South. Their two losses came by a total of 10 points, and one of them was on the road against the Patriots. Their loss to the Titans was far more vexing given that it came against Blaine Gabbert and a pair of backup tackles, and indeed, it involved a fake punt for a touchdown, some Wildcat from Derrick Henry, and a long drive with a deliberate double forward pass from Gabbert.

Using his proprietary statistical data, SB Nation’s Bill Connelly also agrees that Houston is far better than it’s 0-2 record. Connelly writes:

Houston is basically doing everything right except finishing drives. In the Texans’ 20-17 loss to Tennessee, they won nearly every category. They enjoyed a 39 percent success rate to the Titans’ 32. Their successful plays were much bigger. They created two more scoring opportunities. Their field position margin was plus 2.9 yards per drive. Expected turnover margin was nearly 0. Postgame win expectancy*: 93 percent.

One of those Houston scoring opportunities, however, ended when Adoree’ Jackson intercepted a bomb attempt to DeAndre Hopkins. Throw in a pretty damn amazing fake punt touchdown (why were you letting the gunner run free???), and that was enough to flip the win. In a seven-game series with these stats, the Texans win in five.

Add that 0.93 second-order wins to 0.24 from a reasonably nip-and-tuck loss to the Patriots in week one, and on paper, you’re looking at a team that should have about 1.2 wins instead of zero — there was a 22 percent chance that these stats would have produced a 2-0 record and only a five percent chance it would have produced 0-2. Finish drives a little better, and the Texans still have a healthy shot at the playoffs.

Read Connelly’s full post for an explanation of the statistical categories he uses.

For what it’s worth, FiveThirtyEight has calculated the Giants’ playoff chances at 5 percent and expected wins at 4.7. In that calculation, Houston is at 8 percent and 5.5 wins. Not much higher, but still — higher.

The Giants are 6-point underdogs heading into Sunday. The data appears to tell us that’s no accident, and that avoiding an 0-3 start will take something special from the Giants on Sunday.